(Photo: Screen Grab via YouTube/HennesPaynterComm)
Three young women who were raped, physically abused and held captive in the home of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro for 10 years until their dramatic rescue in May, publicly thanked Americans for their help and shared a glimpse of their new lives for the first time since the end of their ordeal.
Amanda Berry, 27, whose 6-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, was fathered by Castro, and Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, all bared clean-cut appearances in a YouTube video posted by Hennes Paynter Communications on Monday, but it was the words, particularly those of Knight, that were most telling.
"Thank you everyone for your love, support and donations which helped me build a brand new life. I just want everyone to know I'm doing just fine," said Knight, who was held captive the longest.
While Berry and DeJesus had returned to their families in joyous celebration, Knight had reportedly shunned her relatives because she had been running from their abuse when she disappeared 11 years ago.
Knight's grandmother, Deborah, also noted in an earlier report that Castro beat her granddaughter so badly during her captivity she would require facial reconstructive surgery.
"When she was severely beaten, he had beat her so bad in the face, she has to have facial reconstruction, and she's lost hearing in one ear," said Deborah.
In the video, however, Knight, sporting a crucifix pendant around her neck, looked stoic and confessed she was depending on God to see her through her recovery.
"I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground. Walking hand in hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation," she said.
"I don't want to be consumed by hatred. ...We need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control. We have been hurt by people, but we need to rely on God as being the judge. God has a plan for all of us," she said.
And God's plan for her life, she explained, is to now help others who have gone through experiences like hers.
"The plan that he gave me was to help others that have been in the same situation I have been in. To know that there's someone out there to lean on and to talk to. ...Thank you for all your prayers. I'm looking forward to my brand new life," she ended.
Berry, who appears first in the video, said she was happy to be home with her family and asked for people to continue to respect their privacy.
"I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family and my friends. It's been unbelievable. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal, everyone who has been there to support us, it's been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness," said Berry.
"I'm getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely. I ask that everyone continue to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life," she added.
DeJesus, the youngest survivor, gave a brief, "thank you for the support," however, her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, echoed thanks to America and their neighbors.
"I would like to personally thank the Courage Fund, everybody in general and I'm also thanking my community, my neighbors, every single one, they know who they are," said Ruiz.
"Parents in general who does [sic] have a loved one missing, please do me one big favor. Count on your neighbors. Don't be afraid to ask for the help because help is available," she added.